There is little doubt that the summer 2011 transfer market will be one of the busiest in recent Manchester United history, with at least a quartet of players leaving club, possibly more. The quality of players coming in will depend on how parsimonious the Glazer family remains but with Gary Neville now retired, Edwin van der Sar due for the same fate, and Michael Owen and Owen Hargreaves out of contract, a similar number will surely join as replacements.
In addition to that quartet it seems more than likely that both Gabriel Obertan and Wes Brown will also leave the club. Obertan’s failure to progress after two unsuccessful years at Old Trafford is unlikely to provide a return on United’s £3 million investment but there is little value persisting with a player who has made just three Premier League starts this season. Meanwhile Brown, who has been at the club for 15 years, reportedly fell out with Sir Alex Ferguson on last summer’s pre-season tour to the United States.
Moreover, with Dimitar Berbatov and Darron Gibson out of contract in 2012 there is no guarantee that the pair will remain at Old Trafford beyond the summer. Certainly the Irishman has shown little progress this season and at 23 may at least fetch a decent transfer fee.
However, any transfer planning will include Tom Cleverley, Mame Biram Diouf, Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda, who Ferguson confirmed will return to the club when the current season ends. The quartet has experienced mixed fortunes away from Old Trafford on loan, with arguably only Welbeck and Cleverley adding to their burgeoning reputations. Welbeck scored six Premier League goals before sustaining a serious knee injury. Meanwhile, Cleverley has performed well at struggling Wigan Athletic when fit.
“They’ll come back into the squad and they will get plenty of games next season,” Ferguson told club mouthpiece ManUtd.com.
“They are part of the band of young players coming through at this club. They will all come back in. At that point, we will then review our squad because that’s the important thing. But we will always put players out on loan.
“Cleverley has done very well, particularly in his spell at Watford and then at Wigan. He has improved in each case and he is going to be a top player. Welbeck has been fantastic too, it’s just unfortunate that he picked up a bad injury. But they will all be ready for next year. Mame Diouf has done well at Blackburn too and he’ll come back in.”
However, Diouf’s failure to command a regular starting spot at Blackburn Rovers, where he has scored just three times in the top division, and Macheda’s patchy form on loan at Sampdoria, where he has scored just once, will also factor in the manager’s thinking.
van der Sar’s retirement and Tomasz Kuszczak probable departure means that United will buy at least one ‘keeper in addition to Anders Lindegaard. The Dane, a £3 million purchase from Aalesund in January, has made just two FA Cup appearances to date but is expected to compete for a place in the first team next season. Meanwhile, Ben Amos may return from loan at Oldham Athletic to once again take up position at Sir Alex’ third choice stopper.
As for additions United has regularly watched David De Gea, Manuel Neuer and Rene Adler this season. Indeed, each is available for transfer, although none will come cheap. While Neuer has talked up his chances of remaining in Germany where known admirers Bayern Munich normally get their man, Adler is desperate for a move to Old Trafford.
Ferguson has little call to make sweeping changes to his defensive department, although the 69-year-old Scot must recognise that injuries have decimated his resources for two seasons in a row. Brown’s likely departure, Rio Ferdinand’s ongoing injury problems and Jonny Evan’s poor form may well prompt the purchase of a new central defender. Chris Smalling’s progress is a bonus though, with the former Fulham defender actually making more appearances than Ferdinand this season.
With Patrice Evra signing a new contract, Fábio da Silva may depart on loan unless Ferguson now considers the 20-year-old Brazilian his brother’s understudy.
Midfield is by far United’s weakest department and although Ferguson will bolster his options with Cleverley’s return – and Antonio Valencia’s renewed fitness – the Scot will surely seek out a central midfielder of the highest quality. It is a challenge the United manager shirked last summer, repeatedly declaring that ‘no value’ exists in the market while spending more than £8 million on Bébé. The fee was, by contrast, more than Tottenham Hotspur spent on Dutchman Rafael van der Vaart. And although United is reportedly keen on brining the former Real Madrid midfielder north this summer it is far more likely that Ferguson will again seek solace in youth or at the bottom of the market.
Much will depend on Paul Scholes’ future – will he, or will he not retire?
Ferguson may also wish to strengthen his left-sided options, with Park Ji-Sung’s form and fitness failing him this season, Obertan unlikely to remain in Manchester and now Ryan Giggs in his 38th year.
Then there is the Hargreaves question, with United essentially missing a destructive force in the centre of midfield for the past two seasons. Tabloid rumours of a move for Daniele de Rossi, Lassana Diarra continue, although at 27 and 26 each is at the upper end of United’s age/cost profile under the Glazer regime.
Ferguson will at least retain a wealth of options in attack even if Owen departs. The injury-prone former Liverpool front-man has contributed little to the Reds’ cause this season and is out of contract in the summer,. However, should Diouf, Welbeck and Macheda all return Ferguson will still have six strikers on his books. It seems unlikely that the Scot will invest in further forward options this summer.
Ferguson also has a number of youngsters who may push towards the edge of the Scot’s squad in the coming year, although few gained experience in the Carling Cup before United’s humiliation at Upton Park. However, Corry Evans – on loan at Hull City – Ravel Morrison, Will Keane, Joshua King and Paul Pogba will hope for more opportunities in the minor cup competitions.